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Students teach parents about social media

By Craig Kemp
April 10, 2018
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I am passionate about student agency and student voice and believe very much in providing opportunities for kids to lead learning. So when our school decided to host a parent information session on social media recently, there was no question who would lead it: the students themselves.

In my role as head of educational technology at Stamford American International School in Singapore, I am responsible for tech integration schoolwide, which includes all stakeholders, from students to staff to the wider school community. That includes parents, who often contact the school with their questions, concerns and even fears about technology, particularly their children’s use of social media.

One thing that’s become clear to me is that most of our kids know more than their parents — and even more than their teachers — about how to add value to student learning with technology. That’s why we decided to host a session on social media for parents and asked students to take the reins.

Here’s how we did it:

Choosing the presenters. We explained our initiative to students and asked for volunteers from grades 6-12 and then narrowed it down to a group of 12 confident students (six middle schoolers and six high schoolers).

Laying out the task. We explained that this would be their chance to tell adults what makes teens tick and what they are really doing online. We wanted them to create a transparent learning community where they felt comfortable and confident talking about topics related to their use of devices and social media. We immediately had their buy-in.

Selecting the topics. The students were adamant that they wanted to choose topics they felt their parents needed to know. They wanted to clear up misconceptions they hear from parents and peers, and they wanted to be the voice of truth. The discussions were interesting because the middle school and high school students saw the topics very differently. Apps considered cool for one group, were not for the other. They ultimately narrowed it down to five categories:

  1. SnapChat, Yellow, Sarahah and

  2. Instagram &

  3. Messaging Apps: WhatsApp, Messenger, Fam/iMessage

  4. Netflix & YouTube

  5. Parental controls, device control strategies & time management strategies

Preparing their presentations. Common Sense Media is our go-to resource to support the teaching and learning process, and each group found resources that supported their topic.

Groups were made up of 1-2 middle schoolers and 1-2 high schoolers with no more than three students at any one station. We intentionally asked students not to write a script or rehearse because we wanted parents to lead by asking questions at each station. Students knew these topics so well that they didn’t need to research or do any digging to find information. They could tell it from the heart, and we gave them the freedom to do so.

The overview of the night was as follows:

  • 15 minute intro by staff using this video from Common Sense Media as a discussion starter

  • 50 minutes for discussions (made up of five 10-minute rotations around the five stations)

  • 25 minutes for Q&A

The presentation. The night came and was totally inspiring with more than 40 parents in attendance. The students led with confidence and passion for a subject that they were true experts in.

Parents asked good questions, such as:

  • Why do you use Snapchat and not just text messaging?

  • Why do you need your messages to disappear? Are you hiding something?

  • How can we help our kids when we don’t know what they are doing?

  • What is the best advice for us to deal with social media use in our homes?

  • What rules do you have at home for mobile phone use?

At no stage was the conversation uncomfortable. Students had the option of passing on any questions (no one had to answer them, but most did), and we had a staff member with each group (who for 95 percent of the time sat silently as bystanders).

After parents had rotated around all five stations, we gave students an opportunity to share any additional thoughts, suggestions or comments as well as opening the floor to questions and comments from parents.

Takeaways from the evening:

  • Student agency is powerful! Give kids the chance to lead and they will amaze and inspire you!

  • Parents need to hear it from kids! They were so much more accepting and understanding hearing it this way.

  • The students in my school are inspiring and powerful. They inspired me to think about how we can create mini-TedX style talks on these topics and share it with the world.

  • Social media is a huge topic and 50 percent of the topics the students came up with, neither the educators or parents had any idea about.

  • Common Sense Media links and a follow-up blog with resources is critical so parents can go away and digest the information and pass it on to other family members.

  • Trust is key from the perspective of students. Try to micromanage and control them and they will push back. Trust gets you very far!

  • Students expressed that they learn best from being given space and being allowed the opportunity to explore and make mistakes.

  • Parents wanted to know how to "control" their children’s devices. The students wanted parents to know that controling doesn’t always work. Their suggestion was to set expectations related to the completion of tasks (finish this part of your homework) rather than related to time (do two hours of homework). The students said they were always more efficient when the expectation was task-oriented rather than time-oriented.

Our school, which educates 2,800 students age 2-18, recently rolled out a comprehensive digital learning model with the ISTE Standards at its core. The ISTE Standards for Students are focused on empowering student voice and ensuring that learning is a student-driven process. This experiment proved to me how powerful and effective that can be. I left the evening totally inspired and ready to expand the idea and give students more opportunities to lead the learning.

Craig Kemp is a New Zealand born educator with over 13 years experience in the classroom and in leadership. He is an enthusiastic 21st-century change agent who is passionate about every aspect of education. He is head of educational technology (N-12) at Stamford American International School in Singapore. He is also a professional development speaker. Follow him on Twitter @mrkempnz, read Craig's blog, and follow the school’s hashtag #SAISrocks.